Yesterday, I was bothered by a Facebook status update from one of my dear friends. This friend is one of those people who has a heart so big that I seriously question her humanity at times. So she writes this post about having given a homeless person food and shockingly the recipient scowled at her gift. Clearly, he felt that he deserved something better than this Subway sandwich. What was even more shocking to me, was to read that this type of incident has happened multiple times to my sweet friend. Instantly, people began to comment on her post. It seemed that others had experienced this same phenomenon. So this had me really curious and I decided to google: “ungrateful homeless people.” Tons of articles came up. Most of them were blog posts ranting about this same issue. Obviously, this experience is very upsetting to people. This one, tells the story of a woman who discovered how to spiritually cleanse herself of such a toxifying incident. This one, is written from a Christian perspective about how to deal with the ingratitude of others in a Christ-like way. (It’s funny actually, the article is about ungrateful church patrons and the poor church leaders that have to deal with us!)
Anyway, I finally stumbled upon a gem, well in my nerd-opinion it was a gem. I found a psychological research article about the psychology of gratitude. Ok, so I actually googled “psychology of gratitude,” the article was not exactly “stumbled upon” but whatever. Here’s a link to the article if you’re a nerd like me and actually want to read it, otherwise I’ll sum it up for you.
So interestingly, the research suggests that gratitude is an emotion that is linked to people with pro-social personality traits like agreeableness and empathy. Huh, homeless people… pro-social personality traits… Something is telling me that those two probably don’t mix often. So could it be that the very reason these people are homeless in the first place is because they grossly lack pro-social traits like empathy? Of course, we couldn’t generalize this to ALL homeless people but it doesn’t really seem like this theory is that far of a stretch. Clearly the homeless man my friend encountered had no empathy for the effort that she put into helping him. Pro-social personality traits are the very characteristics that we all bank on. They help us keep our friends, our jobs… Not to say that people with anti-social personality traits are destined for homelessness, we all know that isn’t true (and unfortunately can probably think of personal examples). Yet, I just can’t help but wonder if this is a huge factor playing into the fate of the homeless.
All of that being said, what do we do with this information? I have no idea. I’ll admit that I’m a chicken when it comes to approaching the homeless due to this very issue. It’s like I don’t want to get rejected after trying to do something nice. The article above addresses that in a way. It says that by giving gratitude, the beneficiary feels indebted and “less-than” the benefactor. Yet, a homeless person can’t repay this debt. So is this ingratitude a twisted way for these people to hang on to their pride? A way for them to not feel so “less-than” or indebted to us? I don’t know. Whatever the reason, it sucks. It sucks because I want to feel like I did a good thing, when someone responds with ingratitude, my insecurity pops up and I question my actions. I start to wonder: should I have asked them if they had any allergies first? Am I somehow treating them as “less than” by not giving them menu options? Truthfully, I wonder: Am I really making a difference or was that a waste of my time and money?
My friend offered the solution to simply begin donating her time at soup kitchens. This sounds pretty good to me. Maybe there her time and energy would not only be appreciated, but would also be productive every time. Now, I don’t think that calling is for everyone. My husband, Caleb, is way more courageous than me and often interacts with the homeless. Interestingly, he has never experienced the “biting the hand that feeds” phenomenon. I’m not really sure why and neither is he. Sometimes I wonder if it’s his calling or something. He literally will feel a pull to go talk to people or to bring them food and so he does it. He’s even given people lots of money because he felt led to do so (that was an interesting conversation between he and I later… “Oh by the way, Honey, I gave $130 to a homeless guy.”). He’s found that it has changed his heart and has made him more open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. That is so awesome… for HIM. But maybe this isn’t the calling for all of us. Maybe our call to serve could be to pass the guy on the street with the “War Veteran and Hungry” sign as we drive to the local soup kitchen. Or, and I truly hope this isn’t the case, maybe I’m called to give to ungrateful people. Partially for their sake, but mostly so that my heart can be changed. So that I can learn to give regardless of anyone’s reaction. I’m cringing as I write this. I really am such a pansy when it comes to this stuff… but this whole issue has made me see that maybe I need to be more bold like my husband and my friend. Maybe I’ll get my hand bitten or maybe I’ll experience something divine. I guess I won’t really know until I try.